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Gene Chizik: Selling Hope, Changing the Culture

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Today was Iowa State's turn at the Big 12 Media Days, and Gene Chizik was there along with RB Jason Scales and LB Jesse Smith. The Cyclones were the only team to bring only two players, which has to count for something, I'm sure.

Now, because I'm not what is considered "press", and SBNation wasn't willing to comp me mileage to Kansas City, I'm going to have to be like most of you and try my best to analyze a transcript.

First, Chizik seems to have a new favorite word.

COACH CHIZIK:  Today we've got two young men with us.  When I think of these two young guys, I think of the word "solid."

Chizik goes on to drop the s-bomb when talking about both Scales and Smith, and he goes on to describe both of their journeys at ISU.

When looking back at the 2007 season, Chizik expressed that while progress was seen with the four conference contests before the Kansas game, trying to look back at that as anything but "window dressing" would be "unacceptable".

He went on to discuss that the special teams unit underwent a "complete overhaul". While not going into specifics, I read that to mean that we're going to try and get our return teams figured out, as well as trying to improve on kick coverage, as the only thing that really shouldn't need changing from last year is the punter position.

Gene then goes on to set the tone for what he expects out of a football player at ISU.

So I think the expectations and the standard has been set. We set a standard at Iowa State and we're not coming down to anybody else's standards. The players have to come up to what we expect.

Right on. For anyone that is not a follower of Iowa State, it's talk like that that gives us hope. We're pretty damn tired of being a punching bag, and Chizik's proactive approach seems to be focused on changing the football culture itself. That concept is a difficult enough task, but he seems to have fans and players believing, so who's to say that's not the first step towards making it so?

Chizik continues to focus on the football culture at ISU after fielding a question about perceptions of Iowa State from the outside.

To be honest, I don't pay any attention to it. What we try to do is focus our players on us. And it's kind of about growing up. You're always worried about what everybody thinks, and you're going to do what everybody else wants you to do. I don't subscribe to that theory. I subscribe to the theory of this is who we are and this is who we want to be and let's go out there and let's let people look at us and be impressed with who we are and what we do.

Again, that's how you change the mentality. We've got to change the mentality of the people that do think that way. And, you know, I don't go into anybody's home when I recruit, and I don't go into any football game with my hat in my hand and say, boy, I hope we can just hold on. That's not how I feel.

Again, in the name of trying to change the culture, that's the direction that we've got to head our football players into. So when you ask how do we deal with that negativity, I just try to keep my team focused on us. Because at the end of the day, right now when you play a football game, it doesn't really matter about your opponent; it really only matters about you. That sounds cliché-ish, that sounds however you want to make it sound, but at the end of the day, it's true.

That answer, in addition to making you want to go out and play for the guy, seems to lend some credence to the thought that the football program, when Chizik came in, was not really one that thought it could do big things. By the end of the McCarney tenure, there almost seemed to be a satisfaction with striving towards the status quo, and a level of complacency seemed to be creeping in, if not making itself the norm. 

When being asked about what concerned him the most when he took over at ISU, Chizik seemed to pound home that point.

I'd say early on in the year, I was concerned because I didn't know if our football team really understood of believed that when things got bad that they could respond. And that's huge. And I'll be honest with you, going up through -- we had a lot of bad happen. And we didn't respond very well. But the Colorado game was a turning point, down 21 at halftime, we were able to scratch and claw our way back and actually win the ball game. That's hard to do in this league.

Looking back at that Colorado game, it truly was a turning point - one of two. The first was the Oklahoma game, leaving ISU to believe the could contend with the big boys. The Colorado game instilled a sense of belief, that sticking to the system could truly give the Cyclones a chance.

Chizik went on to address position battles at runningback, quarterback and defensive line. He was very careful "not to name individual guys", which might lend some credence to a possibility of JJ Bass not being on the team this fall. He also stressed that there is no clear starter at quarterback, but it could easily be a three man race involving Jerome Tiller. He also didn't get into anything more than a generalization of "we need guys to step up on the defensive line."

Chizik's media day presser (from the transcript, at least) seemed to typify why it is possible to believe in this coaching staff and what it can do. He wants to change the thought process inside the Cyclone football program, developing players that believe Iowa State can achieve things never done before. To that end, he's at least got fans such as myself completely buying in. And there's signs that the players are as well. 

And to be honest, his thought process of "we don't care what you think, we'll do what we do"  is one to believe in. I could really care less about what any other team, coach, columnist, writer or blogger thinks about Iowa State. I care about our team first and foremost. 

I'm not disillusioned about what can and can't happen at Iowa State. I'm not expecting outlandish things. But Gene Chizik has done a remarkable job already in changing the underlying direction and motivation at Iowa State, and, to be frank, it's extremely tough not to be excited and not to think that he has real potential to lead the Cyclones towards a future that could be very bright.